October 1, 2012, 7:24 pm
To say it’s the “end of an era” at Boston University with the passing of John Silber is an understatement. Very few university presidents in the country’s history have made their mark as Silber did at BU. In his case, however, the mark is contradictory.
When I arrived at BU, in 1974, Silber had been president for only three years. It’s difficult to imagine how a university leader could so quickly bring about such a polarized environment. BU had become the academic equivalent of a war zone. The established official narrative was that Silber had been compelled to smack heads together to make any progress. The institution was mediocre, and it needed an extreme makeover.
Many new arrivals, including me, bought into this narrative initially. Silber did appear to be an authentic reformer. But it didn’t take long for the official storyline to unravel. Junior faculty, caught in…